Pastoral Letter Lent 2009
Have mercy on me, O God in your great goodness;
according to the abundance of your compassion blot out my offences.
Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my faults and my sin is ever before me.
Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight. .. (Ps 51)
My dear Sisters and Brothers
The spirit of Ps. 51 quoted above is one of repentance. Lent is upon us once again, a time of repentance for the sins we have committed against God and our neighbour. The Lenten season is not observed by all Christian traditions like Christmas for instance, but only by a minority.
There is nothing festive about Lent, nor can it easily be commercialized like Christmas. Lent is associated with the practice of fasting. Bishop Irenaeus who lived about 180AD speaks about fasting, and we also read about it in a document known as Apostolic Constitution which was in circulation among Christian communities around 390AD. There we read,
“If a bishop, presbyter (priest), deacon, reader or singer does not fast the fast for 40 days or the 4th day of the week, let him be deprived (i.e. of his ecclesiastical duties) unless he is hindered by weakness of the body. But if he is one of the laity, let him be suspended.”
We have come a long way and still observe the practice of fasting, or don’t we?
The question of fasting should not only be understood as fasting from eating. Otherwise most Zimbabweans are already fasting forced by circumstances with some only having a proper meal may be once a week. I have been told that some parents with many children to feed have to decide which child is getting food on what day.
But the Lenten fasting is not only about eating. It is a season that calls us Christian to a deeper meaning of fasting, that is to stop and reflect prayerfully on everything that has happened to us personally, to our family, community or nation during the past year.
During Lent we have the opportunity to reflect on the health of our faith (2 Cor13:5). It is a season of self-examination, a time to look honestly and openly at the state of our Christian life.
In Lent we are reminded ofthe temptation of Jesus in the wilderness and throughout his ministry. It is a time to listen to Jesus inviting us to a life of faithful discipleship, a discipleship that calls for a steadfast commitment to the way that leads to Calvary. We stop, reflect and ask ourselves personally whether we are willing to go with him to the ultimate end of his journey.
There is also need for us to stop and reflect about the state of our nation, where we have gone wrong. As Ps. 51 so clearly expresses, Lent is a time of repentance, and we therefore need to ask ourselves: what is it we have to repent for, both as individuals and as a nation?
Many things have happened in our nation that have affected us and have left ugly memories and scars. These include:
• the loss of loved ones through HIV and AIDS, Cholera, starvation and political violence
• the loss of employment and entire pension benefits
• the loss of homes etc.
• the denial of access to our church buildings in the Diocese of Harare accompanied by violent police interference in our services and gatherings.
None of us would want to experience such terrible things again.
Recently I attended a conference on restorative justice in Nairobi.There were participants from Burundi, Rwanda, DRC, Somalia, Kenya and Zimbabwe. We heard some hair raising stories about atrocities that took place in these troubled parts of our continent. One of the participants from Burundi spoke passionately and said, “Unless Africa raises men and women who have the ability to help us stop and reflect about these atrocities leading to loss of human life, the same atrocities will recur again and again. We Christians”, he went on to say, “should preach the gospel of repentance so that peace and justice may be experienced by our people once more.”
Zimbabwe has just opened a new chapter with the formation of a government of national unity. It was stunning to see our ministers taking the oath of office holding a Bible in their hands. Swearing an oath is a serious commitment to serve others diligently and responsibly. I want to believe that all those who took this oath holding a Bible will find time to stop and reflect on what has happened to this nation and brought it to where it is today before embarking on a new road.
Unless they admit the failures of the past, the government of national unity will remain a pipe dream. When we fail to stop and think we run into the danger of developing a habit of accepting what is unjust as just and what is evil as good.
In Lent we are invited to stop and reflect and beyond that, to dedicate ourselves to prayer and obedience to God’s will and not that of human beings. It was prayer that sustained Jesus during the times of being tested throughout his ministry. Unless we make prayer a priority in our lives, we may find it difficult to stop and examine the health of our faith.
Taking into consideration our human inability to follow God’s commandments, I recommend to you all to read prayerfully and meditatively Psalm 51 traditionally used during the Lenten season beginning from Ash Wednesday. I find it very enriching and it encourages me to look into my own life and be able to say, “God, I’m sorry, give me another chance to do better, to be with you on your journey to Calvary”.
God is merciful and compassionate to those who repent in faith. He gives them sufficient grace to follow him. May this Lent give you a chance to deepen your faith as you respond to God’s call to follow him.
Take away, good Lord, the sin that corrupts us;
Give us sorrow that heals
And the joy that praises
To restore by grace your own image within us,
That we may make our place among your people;
In Jesus Christ our Lord.